Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo, the newest player in the e-book market, said the company will challenge competition from the likes of Amazon and Sony by giving consumers more choice. “They should have choice for the content they read, the device that they read it on and where they can get it from,” he told PW.
Unveiled earlier this week, Kobo is a new company spun out from Indigo Books & Music, Canada’s largest book retail chain. Indigo launched its e-book store Shortcovers just last February, selling content to consumers from its website that could be downloaded to mobile devices, smartphones, computers and compatible e-readers. Kobo launched with C$16 million in financing from its major shareholder, Indigo, as well as Borders Group, Instant Fame, a subsidiary of Cheung Kong, and REDgroup Retail Pty.
The basis for Kobo’s marketing strategy is being “global, open and device agnostic,” said Serbinis. He points out that the company is already global with customers in about 200 countries who downloaded a million mobile applications from the Shortcovers Web site. “We’re open in that we support open standards, ePub as an example, so you can buy from us [and] read on any device,” he said. Being device agnostic means that Kobo supports smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre and the Google Android platform, as well as computers and the Sony e-Reader, but Serbinis said Kobo plans to expand that list to include new PC or Apple tablets (if and when they are available) as well as dedicated readers.
But if the idea is to be agnostic, why is Kobo launching its own device? Serbinis said it was important to provide its partners with an e-reader they can sell in their stores. Secondly, he added, these are still the early days of digital books and readers. “We’re moving from a phase that was the early adopter phase, which is driven by gadget-lovers, frankly, to an early majority phase and I think the product that will win the early majority is different from what’s been out so far,” he said.
Borders will be selling all of the titles available through Kobo, Serbinis confirmed. But that will be within the limits of publishers’ territorial rights. He said that Kobo will use the same global platform that Shortcovers used to manage foreign rights questions. “We leverage billing information from your credit card or IP address information from your web browser or mobile network information to verify in fact your country of origin and so that allows us to sell the right books to the right people and pay the right publishers,” he said.
Kobo currently has a catalogue of over 2 million books, 1.8 million of which are in the public domain and are available for free as part of Kobo’s partnership with the U.S.-based Internet Archive. Serbinis said that drawing in more local content from countries around the world will be an important focus in the coming months.